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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Technology Readiness for PARCC

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
October 10, 2015

Last month you asked two questions regarding the technology readiness of the Commonwealth's schools to administer the computer-based version of PARCC:

  1. What schools do not have sufficient technology to administer the computer-based version of PARCC?
  2. What is the estimated cost to get these schools up to the minimum PARCC technology standard?

Attached to this memo I provide an Excel spreadsheet identifying Massachusetts schools and their technology readiness levels and a state-by-state comparison of the number of students taking paper-based vs. computer-based PARCC assessments in 2014-2015. Before your October 19, 2015 meeting, I will provide a technical appendix detailing the data sources and assumptions used to arrive at the estimated costs to get these schools up to the minimum PARCC technology standard.

In addition to providing cost estimates to ensure that all Massachusetts schools can administer the computer-based version of PARCC with the minimum level of technology readiness,1 I also provide the estimated costs of bringing our schools up to a "next generation" standard that would allow our educators and students to effectively use technology to strengthen teaching and learning, which should be the goal of all school technology upgrade projects. In 2014, the United States Chamber of Commerce Foundation released a state-by-state report card on K-12 educational effectiveness. While Massachusetts ranked at the top for student performance, the Commonwealth received a grade of "F" in the employment of technology to provide quality instruction and personalized learning, and providing students access to high-quality digital learning options.2 If we want to retain our top grade for student performance, I assert that we should advocate for technology to ensure students are adequately prepared for the world that awaits them after high school. To that end, the last section of this memo provides an update on efforts to give districts the resources they need to transition to the "next generation" standard.

It should be noted that these calculations are based on August 2014 data reported to the Department by districts in conjunction with industry cost estimates, and therefore the total cost carries a number of underlying assumptions that will be explained in more detail in the upcoming technical appendix. We have vetted these estimates with officials from the Massachusetts Office of Information Technology (MassIT), the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), and the Clayton Christensen Institute.

Cost Estimate for Schools to Administer the Computer-Based Version of PARCC

The Department estimates that out of the total of 1,805 Massachusetts schools surveyed in August 2014, approximately 25 percent, or 442 schools, do not meet the minimum technology requirements to administer PARCC. This is a revision from our earlier estimate of 388 schools because our analysis corrects for computers that met minimum requirements in August 2014 but that would be obsolete for testing in 2015 and beyond, and revises some of the underlying calculations. This estimate includes only schools serving tested grades (3-8).3

Of the 442 schools, the vast majority would need to purchase additional computers to administer PARCC in the testing window, and a smaller number (39) lack the technology infrastructure required for testing. The total, statewide aggregate cost of the infrastructure upgrades is approximately $2.4 million. The cost to provide these schools with sufficient computers (at $250 to $1000/device) ranges from approximately $3.1 million (by purchasing devices such as Chromebooks or tablets) to $12.3 million (by purchasing more expensive laptop or desktop computers). The total estimated cost to achieve the minimum PARCC technology standard therefore ranges from approximately $5.5 million to $14.7 million.

Figure 1: Additional Computers Required for PARCC
Number of Computers NeededNumber of Schools Needing Computers

Cost Estimate for "Next Generation" Teaching and Learning

The estimated cost of bringing our schools up to the "next generation" standard includes the cost of ensuring every classroom in every school in the Commonwealth has sufficient infrastructure for digital learning, not just the minimum number of classrooms in schools required for online testing. This estimate also includes the cost of upgrading to the State Educational Technology Directors Association's (SETDA) ambitious standards for broadband access. The largest share of the cost, and by far the most variable, is providing computers to students. Because it is unlikely that a district could immediately afford a computer for every student, at least in the near term, our estimate is based on a student-to-computer ratio of 3 to 1.

The Department estimates that 1,794 schools do not meet the "next generation" standard for infrastructure, of which 278 require infrastructure upgrades and 1,755 schools require additional computers. The cost of the infrastructure upgrades is approximately $95.6 million. The cost to provide these schools with computers at a 3 to 1 ratio (at $250 to $1000/device) ranges from approximately $66.9 million to $268 million. The total estimated cost to get these schools up to the "next generation" standard therefore ranges from approximately $162.5 million to $363.1 million.

Resources for Technology Upgrades

E-rate is a federal program that provides technology discounts for schools and libraries. E-rate is administered by the Universal Services Administrative Company (USAC) under the oversight of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). To support the goal of ensuring affordable access to high-speed broadband, the FCC has pledged to fully fund all district requests for eligible technology discounts. These discounts range from 20 to 85 percent based upon poverty level and whether the district is rural or urban. Rural districts and districts with higher poverty receive greater discounts. Almost all Massachusetts public schools are eligible to receive at least a 40 percent discount.

With help from Senator Markey's office, the Department has been aggressively communicating the benefits of the program to Massachusetts's districts. We are providing state-specific resources and tools that help district and municipal officials calculate the funding available to their communities. Districts are being encouraged to reserve reimbursed funds to pay for computers and other education technology costs. A new video highlighting increased access to new e-rate funds, along with Massachusetts-specific planning tools are available.

Digital Connections Partnership Schools Grant is a competitive, matching state grant program designed to bridge the digital divide that exists and to strengthen twenty-first century teaching and learning. Administered by MassIT, the Department, and the Executive Office of Education, the $5 million authorized for use in the first phase of the program let us fund projects that impacted 24,981 students and 1,865 educators in 47 schools. Communities will match this investment with approximately $3.59 million from local, private, and federal funding streams, which can be used to pay for computers.


Deputy Commissioner Jeff Wulfson is coordinating the Department's work on PARCC. Please contact him or me if you need any additional information.


Download PDF Document  Download Excel Document
List of Massachusetts Schools' Technology Readiness Levels based on August 2014 Self-Reported Data
Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
State-by-State Comparison of Paper Versus Online PARCC Testing, SY2014-15


Last Updated: October 15, 2015
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